Diabetes is a serious condition that has been a major concern throughout the world. There are many myths that surround this condition, which makes it difficult for someone who is concerned about developing diabetes, or someone who is newly diagnosed to understand exactly how serious it is and what they should be doing to take care of themselves.
There is a commonly held belief that eating too much sugar causes diabetes. This is more myth than fact, although the answer is not as simple as "yes" or "no." There are two different types of diabetes and both have their own set of factors that determine whether or not a person will ever develop the condition.
Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes because it is usually diagnosed in childhood. This form of diabetes is a chronic condition, and the exact cause remains a mystery. While there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, there are treatments available to help people manage their illness. Sugar consumption is not responsible for type 1 diabetes. The main cause is genetics, along with other unknown factors.
Type 2 diabetes, also known as late onset diabetes, is caused also by genetics, but lifestyle choices, such as diet and activity levels, also play a significant role in the development of this type of diabetes. Obesity or being overweight are two big risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, but this also doesn't mean that everyone who is overweight or obese will develop the condition.
[Related: 10 Tips To Prevent Type 2 Diabetes]
There is research that suggests that drinking sugary drinks in particular seems to be linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. Drinks like sodas, sports drinks or sugary, fruit-flavored drinks likely contribute to the development of diabetes by causing weight gain. These drinks have little nutritional value and can have several hundred calories in just one drink.
Another very common myth about diabetes is that someone who has diabetes can't eat sugar. In fact, a small amount of sugar is essential to life. There are also many sources of sugar and it's nearly impossible to avoid them all.
In the past, diabetics were told to completely avoid sugar, but this has changed a bit. Consuming sugar is allowed as part of a diabetic meal plan, but in very small quantities (see: Creating A Healthy Diet Plan For Diabetics). Research has found that the overall amount of carbohydrates consumed (sugar is a carbohydrate, as is starchy foods like potatoes and bread) is much more important than the type of carbohydrate.
Because carbohydrates from all sources affect blood sugar levels, people can skimp on one type of carbohydrate if they want to indulge in another kind occasionally. That means a person with diabetes could easily substitute moderate amounts of sugar with other carbs. However, it is still nutritionally best to stick to healthy sources of carbohydrates. You don’t have to go sugar-free, just make sure you aren’t giving yourself a double dose of sugar and carbs to maintain your blood glucose level.
It is essential that diabetics learn to read and understand nutrition labels, especially the carbohydrate measurement. There is the total carbohydrate amount and then that amount is broken down and lists fiber content and sugar content. These numbers don't always add up to the total carbohydrate amount, but this is fine. There are other starches in foods that don't fall into either category so they aren’t measured separately. Diabetics need to be concerned with the total amount of carbs that they eat per day. According to the American Diabetes Association, the goal is 45-60 grams of carbs per meal, although this can vary from person to person, so follow it's best to follow whatever guidelines are given by a person's doctor.
If you are a diabetic, or are concerned with developing diabetes, it’s important to understand that sugar is not necessarily the enemy. A little bit of sugar won’t hurt as long as you are maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and learning to keep your blood sugar levels on track. Be sure to consult your physician for tips on creating a balanced diet that includes a little sugar for satisfying that sweet tooth.